MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Archive for the tag “South Island”

Spring Getaway

I was supposed to be gallivanting around Europe. I had booked an epic 6 week trip taking me through Singapore to Germany and on to Scotland to see my family, before taking a road trip up the west coast of Norway. I was one of the millions of people to have overseas trips canned because of COVID. In August 2020, it was then 2 years since I’d seen my family, and I had no idea when I’d see them again next. The 6 week leave from work was pointless so I cancelled 4 weeks of it, and left myself the last 2 in mid-September, figuring I’d take a wee spring roadie around New Zealand.

The final week of winter was a mixed bag weather-wise with gorgeous blue sky days with a winter chill in the air, followed by grey days, or a hint of warmth. I spent the last weekend of August walking around the city. Christchurch is not everyone’s cup of tea, and some visitors still fail to see beyond the earthquake scars that are still present on some city streets, but I love it here, and I enjoy a good wander around the place on a regular basis. I used the Avon river as a route finder, following its course past Margaret Mahy playground, and finding I had the giant swing all to myself. In my opinion swings have no age limit, and I’ll happily have a go at seeing how high I can get if I see a vacant one on a lazy day.

 

Spring is my favourite season to visit the city’s botanic gardens. The garden city had been ignoring the fact that it was winter for quite a few weeks by this point, with the daffodil lawns next to the hospital in full bloom even in August. It was warm enough to walk around in a t-shirt and I took a seat on the mosaic chair for a bit before returning to the flowers. The first of the cherry blossoms had bloomed, although the main event was still weeks away. Away from the gardens, the city felt a little empty but just a week later, it was buzzing, and with a DJ playing on the balcony at Riverside Market, I had that excited feeling that comes with the turn of the season, and the thrill of the impending months of spring and summer ahead.

 

The trees were still bare, but the buildings on the Terrace were colourful, and reflected in the gently flowing water of the Avon river. It’s a popular spot to sit and eat lunch, on the steps down to the river where the eels wait for some scraps, and a myriad of water fowl paddle around. Cutting across the city centre, I took a wander around some of the sculptures in the east frame of the city. Some large spray cans formed a canvas for some changing artwork, and a large rusty-looking jagged spire sticks up towards the blue sky, framed by the Port Hills. The flatness of the city centre makes it the perfect place to explore on foot or bike.

 

After a morning of work, I set off north the next weekend, for the winding drive to Kaikoura. The mountains of the Kaikoura Range were snow-capped, framing the bay and the town itself, so I headed to the lookout at the top of the peninsula hill to take it all in from a slight vantage point. I wasn’t staying here though, it was just a handy place to stretch my legs after a few hours of driving. With the late start in the afternoon, I didn’t stay long as I still had a few hours of driving ahead of me.

 

But as I continued on the winding road north from there, my car lost power on an uphill bend. Thankfully it was only brief, and no warning lights came on, but further along the road it happened again. This really wasn’t the kind of road to lose power on, as there’s so many hills and bends to negotiate between the coast and Picton, my destination. Most of the time it was driving fine though, and as I arrived in Picton in darkness on a Saturday night, I tried to allay any concerns, and focused on settling into my accommodation. It was a very basic hostel and a quiet one at that with no international travellers, but I was happy to be joined by a cat that looked so similar to my own.

It was a beautiful sunny Sunday when I awoke, and my car was behaving itself as I drove out to Waikawa Bay. The marina was full of boats swaying gently with the ebb of the water. The mountainous ridge where the Queen Charlotte track hides sat across the water of the Queen Charlotte Sound. A little further around the coast is Karaka Point where a short walk from the car park leads down a small spit to a flight of steps down to a small beach. The views here are incredible. New Zealand is full of stunning landscapes, and the Marlborough Sounds is one of my favourite scenic regions. The sea within the sounds was so calm, and there were rolling green hillsides in all directions.

 

From the top of the stairs to the beach, I spotted a New Zealand fur seal gliding through the water nearby. It had a large linear gash on its lower back that I’m convinced was a propeller injury from a boat. It was full skin thickness, exposing raw red flesh underneath, and it looked relatively fresh. The seal appeared to be swimming normally despite this wound but it was sad to see, and I’m sure it would be in a lot of pain with an exposed wound like that. One of many examples of the harmful outcomes from human and wildlife interactions. It stayed out in the water as I watched it now from the beach, cruising up and down the coast as I followed the stony beach round the headland onto the rocks. I spotted another fur seal cruising in the water, and a little off shore, some small sea birds were fluttering and diving for food.

It was so peaceful, and I’ve no idea how long I stood on those rocks for, but when I turned back around the headland, I found the injured fur seal had hauled out right by the base of the steps. It put its mouth on its wound, and I knew it needed to rest, but it was blocking my exit, and I couldn’t leave it alone without first disturbing it. Unfortunately it took off back into the water as I approached and I was quick to exit the beach in the hope it would come back out again. I savoured the views as I headed back to my car, returning to Waikawa Bay for a walk around the foreshore. Now there were many locals out enjoying the place, but it was still so peaceful, and I stayed here before heading back to Picton for brunch, which I ate out while watching the inter-island ferries come and go.

 

I always feel like I’m on a grand adventure if I have to fly or sail somewhere. I checked in for the lunchtime sailing on the Bluebridge ferry, and counted down till boarding, eager to set sail. The crossing from Picton to Wellington is one of the most beautiful ferry crossings I’ve ever done, in particular the hour and a half that it takes to sail between Picton and the Cook Strait. It was not only calm, but it was a semi-blue sky with just some thin clouds to blur the sun a little, and I was certainly going to spend the entire time out on the deck admiring the view. The first few times I sailed the Cook Strait, I’d taken the Interislander ferries, but the last couple of times I’ve taken the Bluebridge, due to the convenience of their sailing times for my needs. They’re very different ships, and on the Bluebridge ferry the outdoor passenger deck looks down over the vehicle deck, and on that particular sailing there was a truck loaded with sheep among the cargo trucks.

 

The inter-island ferries seem like utter behemoths compared to the little boats that ploughed the waters within the sound. Being a Sunday, there were lots of private sail boats out and about, and every now and again a water taxi or fishing boat whizzed by, all utterly dwarfed by the ferry, and all having to contend with the wake the ferry created behind it as it cruised slowly by. It was cold out on deck, and I needed gloves and a windbreak, but there was no way I was going inside with the scenery as beautiful as this. From the blue water, to the rolling green hills in every direction, there’s just nothing like it. Then as the ferry snakes through the sounds, and a gap finally becomes visible in the distance, the North Island suddenly comes in to view and the Cook Strait becomes broader and broader.

 

The North Island looks so tangible from this point, and yet it takes a full hour to cross it. I’ve had one rough crossing in the past, otherwise mostly I’ve been lucky with the weather on the trip over. This time round there was a strong cross wind and a bit of chop, but the limited spray meant I could still stay out on deck. The blue sky had all gone though, and the cloud overhead turned the water a steely grey colour. As we headed east towards the entrance to Wellington harbour, I could see the snow-capped mountains of the northern end of the Kaikoura Range poking up above the north coast of the South Island.

 

From the green hills of the Marlborough Sounds, the urban sprawl that appears on entering Wellington harbour is such a contrast. Again a myriad of boats moved around us, and city life framed the coast as we sailed round Miramar Peninsula and deeper into the harbour. The office buildings and the sky scrapers of the country’s small capital city grew larger as we crept towards our berth. Everywhere you looked there were signs of movement and life despite the greyness of the day. I stayed on deck till the last possible minute when drivers were called down to the car deck to ready to disembark. The car deck was mostly empty with only a handful of trucks and cars, so once the ramp was down I didn’t need to wait too long before I was signalled to move forward and head off.

But there was to be no lingering in the capital as I still had some distance to travel to reach my bed for the night. I was soon out of the city and in new territory for me, heading north-east around the back of the bay and up into the Hutt Valley. I had a two-hour drive that led me up into the winding hilly road that crosses Remutaka Hill. There’s so many hiking and biking trails around here, and I would have loved to have stopped and explored some of them, but it was well into the evening, and the light was getting low.

I’d never been to the Wairarapa region before, and turning off the main highway, I soon found myself deep in rural Wairarapa, seeing fewer and fewer cars as I eventually hit the south coast as the sun readied to set. I don’t like driving unfamiliar roads in the dark, but the Cape Palliser road wasn’t exactly a place to get lost. However, the sea came right up to the road in places, and with a slight wind buffeting from offshore, it felt wild as I passed the final kilometres. There was no one to greet me as I arrived at my cabin in the middle of nowhere, part of a small camping ground that was mostly empty. I settled in for the night as the place was shrouded in darkness, until it was almost pitch black outside. The sea was somewhere nearby, but it was no longer visible. With a coastal chill in the air, I could only hope for dry weather the next day.

Hokitika Time

Food may not be the first thing that springs to mind when most tourists think of Hokitika. And perhaps, for many New Zealanders, the same may also be true. But for years I’d wanted to attend an annual food festival held there, and finally, in March 2020, I had a ticket in my possession and a weekend that I didn’t need to work. Traversing the width of the South Island from Christchurch on the east to Hokitika on the West, I bid the sun goodbye and arrived around lunchtime as the festival was kicking into full swing. I’d booked an Air BnB out of town so had to be sober for the drive there later on, but I readied myself for an afternoon of eating.

But this was no standard food festival, this was the famous Hokitika Wildfoods Festival, a celebration of edibles outside of the ordinary. The kind of grub that many people would balk at. I’m adventurous with food to a point. I’ve been privileged to have travelled to multiple countries across six continents and I’m always happy to try local cuisine and delicacies. It’s textures that tend to put me off, not so much taste, but I wandered round the food stalls eyeing up my options. As I did so, live music played on the main stage, and everyone was in a jovial mood. Thankfully it didn’t rain, so the cloud ended up being a blessing in disguise. It kept the temperature comfortable without being oppressively hot, and it saved my Scottish skin being over-fried.

I started off tamely with a mixed-meat kebab of rabbit, wallaby, deer, goat and wild boar. I’ve eaten all of these before so it was an easy bet. For dessert I got a grasshopper donut. Aside from the surreal experience of licking an ant’s bum in Australia (a zesty, lemony experience), I’d never eaten insects before. This was the perfect place to try as several places offered a variety of these snack-sized protein portions. The grasshoppers had been cooked so were extra-crunchy, and an odd but acceptable taste. I personally think that insects are an under-utilised food source for humans, but not everyone agrees with me.

 

After listening to the music for a while, I got myself a snail, electric eel and punga (a tree fern). The snail was always going to be a texture issue for me but actually ended up not being as bad as I expected and actually passed the taste test too. The ostrich from the South African tent was the biggest disappointment. I ate ostrich meat several times while in South Africa and it was always lovely, but this time around it was chewy and lacking in flavour.

I needed something more interesting so headed to the huhu grub tent. Huhu grubs are the larval stage of the huhu beetle, and live in rotting wood. Next to the tent were all the live grubs wriggling around in the sawdust of opened tree trunks, and whilst it was possible to eat them live and raw, I wasn’t keen on having one move around my mouth, so I opted instead for a cooked and skewered variety. A bit chewy and lacking much of a taste, I know they’ll do if I ever got lost in the wilderness for days on end.

The only ‘normal’ food I ate there was some lovely Hungarian fried bread. As I ate it, I stared at the sheep’s testicle tent for a long time trying to decide if I was game enough for one. I think if they’d been chopped up, and somehow made to look more edible I probably would have been more eager, but they were literally selling them as entire testicles, and being a vet I know exactly how solid and tough these things are, so I really couldn’t bring myself to buy one. That didn’t stop a steady queue of people lining up for them and they were the only stand I saw that sold out. In the end, my procrastination meant the decision was made for me.

As afternoon became evening, I procured some ice cream complete with witchety grubs. These were probably my favourite of the insects, and were nice and crunchy with a taste that was not off-putting. I’d easily eat these again and again and think they’d make a nice meal topper or crunchy addition to a salad. Food aside, there was such a great atmosphere there and some people had dressed up in unusual outfits which added some entertainment. I kept spotting a group of people dressed in pacman suits, and one of the event organisers was walking around dressed like a wild boar.

 

As a solo traveller, I’m used to doing a lot of things on my own. Going to a festival solo would not be everyone’s cup of tea, and in fact I know several people that would recoil at the prospect of such a thing, but I refuse to miss out on opportunities purely because I don’t have anyone to do things with, or don’t want to be tied to another person’s schedule. I had an absolute blast and spent a good 6-7hrs there enjoying the live music, filling my stomach with weird food and just generally enjoying an event that I’d wanted to do for years.

 

I pulled up to my Air BnB in the evening as the light was starting to fade. I’d booked a cabin in the woods, or at least the closest thing I could find in that area, and found myself with a view of the coast, in earshot of the waves crashing below and a nice comfy cabin to keep me warm at night. I still had a cricket donut to eat so this was my evening snack. Of all the insects, this ended up being my least favourite, partly because the crickets were so friable and bits got stuck around my teeth.

As is typical of the west coast, I woke up to grey skies and the threat of rain. This wasn’t going to put me off though, so I headed down to the beach below my cabin which felt wild and was littered with flotsam as the grey waves crashed on the shore. After grabbing brunch in Hokitika, I headed south across the river to Lake Mahinapua. It’s very hidden from the road, with a need to drive through a forest to get there, but it was drizzling when I pulled up, so I didn’t spend as long as I would have liked there. I don’t always have the best of luck with weather on the west coast, so I’ll need to make a return trip here if I ever get the weather Gods right.

 

Back in town, I did a walking tour of the many historical sites around the place. Like many places on the west coast, the presence of prospectors and historical commerce has shaped the modern town today. The drizzle was a slight nuisance but I was still able to appreciate the various sights, and old architecture that is hidden down a variety of streets. Wildfoods Festival aside, Hokitika is also known as the driftwood capital of New Zealand. The prevailing currents deposit a large amount of flotsam on the wild beach, and there is also a driftwood sculpture competition here too. Multiple sculptures were still littering the beach, and I was able to wander around them before the rain became heavier.

 

I was eventually beaten by the weather, so I grabbed a pizza from nearby Pipi’s Pizza (a Hokitika institution), and parked up in front of the Hokitika driftwood sign to watch a movie on Netflix as the rain pounded down. Rather than being frustrated by the west coast weather, it was actually quite enjoyable to just sit there in my car. I have a lot of memories of family road trips with my parents in Scotland where we’d inevitably get a good dose of Scottish rain, forcing us to park up and sit it out in the car. This just reminded me of that, and that made it feel quite homely.

 

There was still the hint of rain in the air the next morning. I had stopped working Mondays the year before meaning my non-work weekends are a 3-day weekend for me. This has made weekend getaways that bit better with having that extra day to explore before needing to head home. To the south-east of Hokitika is the large and long Lake Kaniere. When I arrived at the north-western tip of the lake, the far bank was shrouded in clouds, hiding their peaks. My original plan had been to do a walk around the western shore of the lake but with a perceived lack of time and the threat of rain still looming, I decided instead to just take the scenic drive round the lake.

 

Away from Canoe Cove and Hans Bay, the only settlements and lake access available, the road quickly became a dirt track, and a track that I quickly discovered, had been previously washed out and was in a pretty poor state of repair. Thankfully it wasn’t impassable in my 2-wheel drive, but it was muddy in places, narrow in others, and it just generally looked a mess. As I reached the eastern shore there was a light drizzle as I appeared to have caught up with the clouds, but what the rain did mean though, was that Dorothy Falls was gushing. This waterfall is a very short walk from the road side, so was easy to access, and the tannin-stained water flowed noisily over the hillside and down towards the lake.

 

It ended up being quite a long drive to circumnavigate the lake and get back into Hokitika. Heading north to start the journey home I took a road up to the cemetery where there was a bit of a view over the coast and the town. The sun was out here which made a nice change from the rain. A little further up the road was a historic railway bridge that is a remnant of the old commerce that used to exist here.

Cutting east towards Arthur’s Pass, I decided to follow some of the tourist signs that I’ve driven by multiple times without investigating. I was a little underwhelmed at the Londonderry Rock, which whilst indeed being a big rock, was effectively just a large boulder overgrown and surrounded by trees. I was already on a back road from here so I took another detour to Kapitea Reservoir which despite being a reasonable body of water, was also rather underwhelming. At least the scenery on the drive through Arthur’s Pass made up for it. This road never fails to disappoint, especially between Otira and Porter’s Pass.

There were murmurings afoot prior to this weekend away, and they grew stronger within the following couple of weeks. I hoped to be wrong, but not only would this turn out to be my last trip out of Christchurch for a few months, but it was beginning to become clear that my upcoming trip home to Scotland might be under threat. Just a few weeks after this fun weekend away, New Zealand was plunged into a 2-month lockdown, a rhetoric I would have never foreseen in my life before then. Like the rest of the World, COVID-19 was now here. And we all know how things went from there…

Reaching New Heights

Sometimes you just have one of those days that are incredibly enjoyable. Where everything is exciting or new or exhilarating or all of these things combined. After a long hike out from Port Craig on the third day of the Humpridge Track, I’d left Southland behind and driven north into Otago. One of my favourite parts of the country is Wanaka, but by this point in February 2020, it had been a while since I’d been. I’d last been there for a friend’s wedding where the sun had shone brightly above, and now, late in the evening, I arrived to overcast skies.

New Zealand is normally all bustle in February due to an influx of Chinese tourists for Chinese New Year. Still being summer, this usually adds to the large numbers of foreign visitors already here from foreign shores. Wanaka is usually packed all summer, but the gradual spread of the coronavirus, which back then was just filtering out across the globe, had curbed the usual February influx, and although still full of people, I noticed immediately that Wanaka was not as busy as usual. And that suited me just fine.

I was staying at the YHA which has a fabulous outlook over a large park with the lake behind it, and once checked in I headed straight down to the lake side for a walk along the promenade. The clouds masked the sunset over the peaks to the west and on the far side of the lake I could see rain moving across. I had my fingers crossed for some good weather the next day, and went to bed hopeful of clear skies in the morning.

I wasn’t disappointed. It was a glorious morning, and I retraced my steps down to the lakeside as the sun rose high enough to bathe the lake in light. But it wasn’t long before I needed to jump in my car and head out to the back of the town for my day’s adventure. Meeting my group and my guide, we bundled into the mini-van to head out towards Mount Aspiring National Park where we pulled in to view our challenge for the day. In front of us was a multi-tiered waterfall cascading down 450m of the mountainside, and one of the few Via Ferrata sites in New Zealand.

I’d wanted to do a Via Ferrata for many years. The ‘iron path’ in this case was a choice of 3 trips up increasingly higher routes next to the waterfalls. Wild Wire Wanaka, an awesome local company, offers Lord of the Rungs trips up and I had booked into the full ascent, all 450m up via a series of iron rungs and cable ways, which is the highest waterfall cable climb in the World. I’ve abseiled a few times and done some basic clip-climb adventures, but I hadn’t done anything to this level before. Down near ground level, there was a practice boulder to get us used to clipping on and clipping off to the safety cable, as well as getting used to the feel of our harnesses on our body. There was just 4 of us doing the full ascent, everybody else was doing a lower level climb. I wasn’t as fit as I would have liked but I’m a regular hiker and aerialist so figured my background fitness would see me right.

The lower route was a breeze, snaking up the hillside next to the lower cascade and negotiating some cable bridges that criss-crossed the water. After 150m vertical ascent, we reached the base of Picnic Falls from where we could start to get a broader view along the valley where the road heads into the National Park. Lake Wanaka was only just creeping into view from behind the nearby mountain. From here, a series of waterfalls cascaded down a fairly vertical section of rockface, and the sun was now beating down on us from above. Across more cableways and up rung after rung, we pulled ourselves up to 320m to a ledge which had a spectacular view of an increasingly visible lake.

 

By now we were at the base of Falcon Falls. This was the turning back point for everyone apart from the 4 of us and our guides. I was lucky enough to have the company owner as my guide and he was incredible at making sure we had fun and stayed safe. We had a bit of time to hang around here because this was our refreshment stop ahead of the final push. I’d been loving the trip so far, and although it was a hot day, I’d felt fit enough to cope well with the route so far. There was still another 130m ascent to gain to reach the 450m total drop of the falls, and I felt ready to take it on.

 

We ascended 2 people per guide. Myself and another solo traveller went first behind our guide as we headed up through vegetation initially, reaching the gantry which was one of my favourite sections of the whole climb. Effectively a plank of wood on metal rungs locked into the rock, we were able to cross this and go behind the waterfall we were scaling. It was beautiful and the sun against the water created a pretty rainbow to frame the view. There was a pleasant spray from the water as we cut behind it.

 

Only as we got higher did I realise that my guide had been keeping an eye on me. I had felt perfectly fine climbing up so far, and I thought I had looked that way too. I’m not sure whether I was being judged on my age, or whether something had given it away, but it turned out there was a method in my guide’s choice at putting me directly behind him. I had just thought it was luck that I was able to watch how he distributed his weight and was able to copy him, unlike the other woman who wasn’t able to see and could only watch me. For all of the climb so far, it had either been a vertical ascent or a near vertical ascent, but beyond the waterfall was a section where there was an overhang to negotiate. This involved having to trust the harness and actually hang off the mountain while using upper body strength to pull up. I hadn’t for a minute thought this would be a problem, but when it came to it, I actually struggled a bit. I couldn’t work out how to distribute my weight correctly to optimise the move and quickly fatigued in the process. Perhaps the guide had anticipated this, as his placement in front of me, meant he could offer me a bit of a haul up, something that wasn’t an option for the other climber behind me. While I was in my 30s, she was in her 20s and by comparison she was nimble and had no issues getting up to join us. I was a little embarrassed.

There was still the final climb to go but it was just back to a vertical ascent again, and finally, and almost sadly, we reached the canyon where the river came down to the top of the falls. Our 450m ascent was over. A track led through the trees and out onto the mountainside where we could see up the river valley into the edge of Mount Aspiring National Park, as well as across to Beacon Point on the far side of the lake. Above us was a 1955m peak which looked totally reachable but wasn’t actually accessible. There was a short wait till we were joined by the other pair with their guide, and then we watched as the final fun part of the trip came up to meet us.

 

Unlike the ascenders of the lower two sections of the falls, we were not going to be walking down. Instead, the full via ferrata is rewarded by a helicopter descent. I had actually thought we were going to be flown back into town which would have given spectacular views, but as it turned out, we were just to be flown back down to the car park. I wasn’t disappointed for long though as even that short flight was fun, simply because I don’t get to fly in helicopters that often. At the same time, the valley was full of paragliders which the helicopter pilot had already skillfully avoided on the flight up, and after we had watched them floating around for a bit, the helicopter had us loaded up and down on the ground in no time at all. It was the perfect end to an incredible adventure.

 

But the day was far from over. After being dropped back in town, I almost immediately headed back out towards the National Park. Just a little before the waterfall is the parking lot for Diamond Lake and Rocky Mountain tracks. Despite a few prior visits to Wanaka, I’d only discovered the Diamond Lake track on my previous visit, and had gone as far as the lookout with my partner. This time though I was wanting to conquer Rocky Mountain which is only 775m high. I’d been looking across to it all day from the waterfall ascent, so it only seemed right to knock it off on the same day.

From the car park, the track heads up a switchback to reach the lake which, despite some incredible reflections seen from the lakeside track, is best appreciated from the lookout partway up Rocky Mountain. From the lookout, there are two ascents up to the summit, but having never been up before, I opted to take the eastern route up which included a side-track to a lookout of Lake Wanaka. As is often the case when I’m down this way, I take hundreds of photos because why wouldn’t you? The place is gorgeous, and between the lake and the mountains, there’s barely a dull spot to look at.

 

The track, while well worn, is a little rough underfoot in places, and after a day of hauling myself up the via ferrata, I was a little tired in the legs. I’d hiked 3 days solid followed by a slog up an iron ladder. I was feeling both fit yet exhausted from the exertion. But the views were worth it, and I sat on the summit for a long time as the shadows grew long as the sun dropped low to the west. Below me, the lake water looked so still, and behind me, the towering point of Mount Aspiring, the National Park’s tallest peak, stood in the shadow with its glacier perched near the top.

 

It took some pull to make me leave, but the views accompanied me on the way down too. I took the western track down, descending a different way which gave me a view across to the twin falls, one of which had been the site for the via ferrata, now in shadow. I was mainly looking across to Roys Peak, one of the first mountains that I climbed in the South Island back when I first emigrated. I haven’t been up it since, because back in 2012, I was one of only 5 people on the summit, and it was another perfect day like this one had been. Sadly, it has become Instagram famous, and since then, it has become overcrowded with queues at the top to take specific photos, and degradation of the vegetation has occurred as a result. Despite the stunning views, I’m not really in any hurry to go back up.

 

It was after 7pm by the time I got back to my car and I had a good appetite now in need of satiation. Being a Sunday night, the eateries were busy but I got my stomach filled. The following day I had to drive home to Christchurch, and I wished I could have stayed longer. When I woke up on the Monday, it was another cracker of a day. The locals were all back to their day jobs, but there were a few tourists milling around at the lakeside. After breakfast I joined them, slowly walking the shore until I reached the wharf. It would have been a perfect day to go hiking, but instead I joined the small crowd of people that were feeding the eels in the lake. I’d never seen an eel before moving to New Zealand but they’re often a bit of a local attraction wherever they can be found in accessible waterways. It was a complete melee between the large eels and the myriad of waterfowl that all fought over the food scraps on offer.

 

I took my time heading back, savouring the views before grabbing a sundae from Patagonia, the wonderful ice cream and chocolate shop that can be found in Wanaka and Queenstown. But by lunchtime, I really had to leave. It takes 4-5hrs to drive back to Christchurch but the weather followed me most of the way. I stopped at the head of Lake Pukaki to savour the blue water which shimmered under the blue sky. From here, Aoraki/Mount Cook, the country’s highest peak, is in full view. To savour this sight, I stopped at a lakeside car park half way up the lake for a meander along the shore. I love living in Christchurch, but I’m also often sad to return to it after being away in the countryside. It was back to work and the daily grind the following day, but I didn’t have too long to wait till my next trip away.

West Coast Wanderings

My hands gripped the steering wheel as my foot slammed the accelerator to the floor, the engine revving loudly as I yelled out loud ‘come on baby, you can do it!‘. I leaned forward, as if the shift in weight would help get my car up the steep incline that lay before me. My heart in my mouth, I prayed the car ahead of me did not falter. Because if he did, so would I.

I’d read about a hidden gem deep in the forest of the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island, and having completed the 4-day Heaphy Track at Kohaihai, I was practically at the road end. I knew from looking on maps that it was an unsealed road to get there and it looked like it might be steep but I’d read plenty of reports about 2-wheel drive cars managing just fine so told myself my little 1.4 litre Hyundai would be okay. I turned off the main road and reached an entrance sign that also declared that it wasn’t a 4-wheel drive road. And so I continued, entering the forest on a semi-graded unsealed road as it started its climb upwards. But it didn’t take long to reach a steep hill and there was a car only a little in front of me.

My car can feel under powered uphill even on a sealed road, and I knew my car well enough to know I needed to just floor it. If I had to lay off the gas because the car in front of me was too slow, I knew I’d lose momentum and struggle, potentially stalling on the rough track under wheel. I hung back a little to give them a decent head start and then gunned it. I thanked my car out loud when I got to the top, but little did I know this was only the beginning. The road had to reach a pass which meant multiple steep sections of variably graded road, and regular blind bends with no idea about oncoming traffic, and variable widths to the road. Each time I loudly gave my car encouragement to get me up each steep section and thanked it for getting me there. As I reached the top I felt glad it was over, only to quickly realise the road dropped just as steeply down the other side, with just as many blind bends.

When I reached the car park, I was sweating and stressed, aware of the fact that the only way out was back the way I had come. So I was determined to make the most of being there by doing several walks. I took the shorter trail through the forest, following the tannin-rich Oparara river which led me to the gigantic rock structure of Oparara Arch. The arc of the arch, at 49m wide with a height of 37m, is impressive and the trail leads up to a lookout into the arch as well as down onto the rocks by the river. Despite the horrendous drive to get there, the car park had been quite full but thankfully most of the people on the trail were walking out and I almost had the place to myself, at least initially. Down at the river, I could see out the other side of the arch into the thick forest beyond, and the water reflected the opening on its surface.

 

When a few more people arrived I began back along the river where I noticed large stones at the edge creating patterns with their reflection. Upon reaching the car park I cut across to the opposite side to take a longer circular route that led through the forest. Within 10 minutes I was at the side track which led to my favourite part of the area, Moria Gate. Getting into it meant fitting through a hole in the rocks, aided by a chain to lower down into a sort of tunnel. Here another rock arch spanned the Oparara river once more and this one was just magical. There were a few people here making it difficult to photograph without other people in it, but I was reluctant to leave it, taking my time to wander back and forth from one end to the other.

 

Eventually I headed back up through the hole in the rocks and rejoined the main trail, continuing the circuit which quite quickly led me to a lookout which looked back into the arch from the outside. Continuing onwards, the trail meandered for some time through the forest, gaining a bit of height before eventually popping out at the Mirror Tarn. Even though it was a bit of a grey day, the mirror effect was still fully evident, but it felt eerily quiet here with no people and no bird song, so after a while I pushed on to complete the circuit and return to the car park.

 

I internally talked myself up for the drive back across the pass. I again had to wait for another car to get a bit of a head start, and once more I found myself gripping my steering wheel, flooring the accelerator pedal and verbally coaxing my car up every incline. When at last I reached the main road again, I allowed my pumping heart to settle. Clearly you don’t need a 4WD car if the conditions are right, but it was certainly a highly stressful drive with such a small engine, but I was very glad I’d done it. Now I could continue south cutting through Karamea and Little Wanganui before pulling over at the side of the road to take the Lake Hanlon track. After 4 days of walking on very little food I felt out of puff walking up the hill and down the other side to the long steely grey-looking lake. There were no reflections as the wind whipped through the crater a little, but a few birds gave some interest.

 

Despite it being in peak holiday season, I hadn’t booked anywhere to stay that night, but I did have my tent in the boot of my car. Having picked up a hitchhiker a few days prior, I decided to go with their recommendation of a campsite further south down the coast. Climbing up into the mountains and across a couple of saddles affording views down to the sea, almost immediately after winding my way down the other side, I took a side road down a gravel track to Mokihinui beach where Gentle Annie Campground opened up before me. It was so busy, with campervans and tents set up all over the place and children playing left, right and centre, that it felt like I’d arrived at a commune or festival. After paying an entry fee, I cut through the masses and found a spot on the edge of the crowds to set up my tent across from a field of cows.

Normally a busy campground like this would irritate me but there was such a happy vibe there with families and friends hanging out and enjoying the company and the locale, that I couldn’t help but feel relaxed there myself. I picked my way down to the beach and walked among the flotsam that had washed up, listening to the waves crashing near by and the sounds of happy children. I’d left the cloud behind and it was a gorgeous sunny summer evening. After walking to the river mouth and back, I set up my cooking stove on the beach and ate dinner for the first time in 4 days before watching the sun set over the Tasman Sea. It was the perfect end to the day, and one of those times where I couldn’t help but be in the moment. In the darkness I returned to my tent and crawled into my sleeping bag full of content.

 

I awoke on the last day of 2019 with a long drive ahead. There was no great need to pack my tent up properly, so everything was thrown into the boot of my car allowing me to set off without wasting much time. It was unfortunately cloudy as I returned to the main road and followed the highway south. A little way down the road at Waimangaroa I cut inland to take a steep and winding road up into the clouds. At the top in the mist was Denniston, an abandoned settlement from the coal mining days. I’d read about this place some years prior and was excited to finally be visiting. Despite being summer, it was chilly in the clouds and they also brought drizzle, so I sheltered at the top by the information boards reading every single line, soaking up the history of the place.

There used to be an entire town here, perched atop the hill, frequently enveloped in mist or rain for weeks on end. It seemed to be a miserable place, not to mention a dangerous one, with mining works and conditions bringing all sorts of risks to those that braved a life there. What brings people there now is the impressive Denniston Incline, a 1:1.25 (80%) gradient altitude gain which the old coal track used to run up and down. It was a feat of engineering at the time and the thought of it now is still impressive. From the information boards, a track leads down to an area where remnants of buildings and machinery lay scattered across a flattened area, across which two separate viewpoints overlook the start of the incline.

Despite the mist, I could just about make out the surf on the west coast, and I looked down the slope impressed with it all. A few coal trucks sat locked forever in place on the cusp of the drop down, and in the distance I could see the route of the track fall away far below me. Walking around the site there are signs of broken and discarded coal trucks everywhere. The mist made it a little eerie but it was a pretty cool place to walk around. Out the back the track led below a huge stone viaduct that leads into the closed off mine shafts. The west coast is littered with abandoned gold and coal mines, most of which are closed off and deemed too dangerous to enter.

I watched a tomtit for a while before cutting back to the incline. The heavy blanket of dark clouds had lifted revealing a bit more of the view, so I spent some more time here, walking down into the meadow flowers at the top of the incline. After taking a drive across the summit past what was left of the old settlement, I headed back down to the bottom of the hill and took a side road to where the bottom of the Denniston Incline was served by a train track. It looked just as steep from this end, and yet more remnants of machinery were strewn around the place. Had I had more time and energy, I would have loved to walk the track to the top, but by now lunchtime, it was time to push on.

 

After stopping in Westport for lunch and a wander along the short main street, I drove out the other side to take the road to Tauranga Bay on Cape Foulwind. It had been years since I’d last been here and the place was full of holidaymakers from kids building sandcastles on the beach to surfers riding the waves in the bay. The clouds seemed to hug the southern end of the bay but as I followed the coastal track to the north, the clouds were breaking up and the sun was trying to come out. A little way around the coast is a lookout overlooking a New Zealand fur seal colony. It’s pretty much a guaranteed place to spot them and there was plenty of activity on the rocks below to entertain everyone.

 

I didn’t have time to walk the full length of the cape and back, but I walked up the hill a little past a multi-city distance marker and to a viewpoint overlooking the next bay. Heading back past the fur seal colony once more, I drove the short distance to the far end of the Cape Foulwind walkway where the lighthouse stands. The clouds had completely gone from this end of the trail, and I sweated my way up to the lighthouse from where there was a gorgeous view out over the Tasman Sea and the coast in either direction. I kept putting off leaving, but I had a New Year’s Eve dinner to attend outside of Christchurch so I really had to get going. That didn’t stop me from stopping multiple times in the Buller Gorge to take photographs. It had been less than a week since I’d passed through here twice in one day, but this time round it was under a blue sky and the river sparkled blue as it flowed through the deep and lusciously green valley.

 

As I cut from west coast to east, the sky began to change. For weeks Australia had been burning in one of the worst fire seasons on record. A few weeks prior I had left Sydney behind under a smoke-filled sky, and now a month and over 2000km later, the smoke had reached New Zealand’s skies. The sky turned hazy and red as the sun lowered, creating a really spooky effect. I couldn’t smell it, but it was a vision I can still remember nearly 18 months later. I didn’t even stay up for the turn of the new year, I was too exhausted from the drive, but I went to sleep full of the knowledge that 2020 would bring me lots of travelling, including a much-anticipated trip home to see my family and visiting a couple of new countries. I could never have guessed what was to come.

The Heaphy Track – Perry Saddle Hut to James Mackay Hut

Hiking on an empty stomach was never going to be an enjoyable experience. After ejecting all of the previous day’s sustenance while hiking up the mountain, the lack of appetite meant setting off on day 2 of the Heaphy Track tired, exhausted and dehydrated. I was still a little nervous every time I took a drink from my water bladder, but the sterilising tablets had done what they needed to and thankfully, there was no repeat of the day before. But it was to be a long day traversing the ridge from Perry Saddle Hut at 860m to James Mackay Hut at 700m, a 6.5hr walk according to the Department of Conservation (DoC) signage. The earlier risers at the hut meant I was on the track at the back of 7am, but I was sure that I was going to struggle maintaining a decent pace, and my pack was weighing heavy on my shoulder as I followed the path through the forest.

Following the contours of the mountain, views were sparse through the canopy, an occasional glimpse up to the hillside next to the track, or an occasional broader view across a valley. Streams and bridges were crossed and after an hour, the forest finally opened up to the moorland of Gouland Downs. It reminded me of Scotland, the heather-like shrubbery at shin height, and the wind whipping across. Rain clouds threatened from a distance creating a faint rainbow as I walked. This was takahe and giant snail country, both endemic and rare wildlife that could be spotted here. I passed signs alerting to look out for both but saw none.

 

As the trail dropped down a little towards a stream I came across a totem pole littered in hiking boots. I’m not sure what possesses someone to abandon their hiking boots in the middle of nowhere, but clearly lots of people have done so, as there was a myriad of shoes strung up on the pole, leading to a sign declaring the spot as ‘Boot Pole Corner’. Beyond here, the rain clouds appeared to be dispersing and I saw the rainbow once more as I got nearer the first of the day’s huts, Gouland Downs Hut. This small hut lay in a flat section which was supposed to be one of the best places to spot the takahe which had been released into the wild here. Hiking alone often gives me the best chance to spot wildlife, but although I had the place to myself, there were no birds to see.

 

I’d taken a little longer to reach the hut than the signs had predicted, but I was neither surprised nor put off doing the side tracks here. A little past the hut are some side tracks that are only obvious when you are looking for them. The first led into thick forest where a couple of caves could be found among the undergrowth. When the main track went into the forest, a network of arches cut under the track making for a neat little exploration into the limestone landscape, and at the end of the forest, a track led down into the low vegetation and round a corner to reveal a large open cave with a waterfall dripping down the front of it.

What followed was a series of river crossings as the track remained mostly flat across a mostly open section. It seemed on the map like the next hut wasn’t that far away but my energy was flagging with every turn in the trail that didn’t bring it into sight. Finally the 1km marker popped up and I pounded the trail in anticipation of a break, arriving at the exposed Saxon Hut which was full of people enjoying the sunshine to eat some lunch. These were all people that had stayed at Perry Saddle, but I hadn’t had the opportunity to meet many of them yet due to my ill health. I still wasn’t hungry but forced myself to consume a small cup of hot soup in an effort to boost my energy a little. It was all I could manage, and so I pushed on, feeling weighed down by all the food I wasn’t consuming.

 

My destination for the night was still 3hrs away according to the DoC sign and to begin with the track continued through tussock and wetlands, close to the Saxon river. Turning and climbing up onto a ridge, a bench in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere denoted the division between the Tasman District and the West Coast District. I struggled as the track continued along a long and winding ridge following the contours of the land. Aside from that small cup of soup, I hadn’t kept a meal down since breakfast the day before, and I was really leaning on my poles as I dragged one foot forward and then the other. My pack was such a burden on my back and my patience was getting thin as the winding seemed never ending and it became difficult to work out on the map how far I’d actually come. At one point I realised that my jumper had fallen off my pack strap where I’d slung it, and I cursed myself for having to back track to find it.

Finally I reached the dual crossings of Blue Shirt Creek which was at least somewhere recognisable on the map. The curve and dip in the landscape offered a broader view across the landscape than I’d had for a few hours, and after a brief rest by one of the bridges, I felt a bit more motivated to get moving again. Finally, the trees parted to reveal Mackay Downs, and the track became boardwalk as it crossed a slightly alien-looking landscape. This section can apparently flood quite badly in heavy rain but it had been such a sunny day so far, the ground appeared relatively dry. At one point, the track passed some unusual boulders before finally a marker denoted the hut was near.

 

The final kilometre to James Mackay Hut felt like it took forever. I arrived at 4.30pm, over 9hrs after leaving Perry Saddle Hut behind. There was still plenty of hours of daylight left but I was exhausted and still feeling dehydrated. But the hut gave a sneaky peak of the rest of the hike, with the Tasman Sea crashing onto the west coast just about visible in the distance. I couldn’t even consider having dinner, there was just no desire for food whatsoever. Whatever bug I’d picked up had hit me good, but I was just grateful to not be throwing up, and happy to still be on the trail despite it. There was a definite sense that the next day would bring a change, with signs that the landscape would change quite a lot. But for now, it was time to rest again, and attempt to block out the snorers ahead of the next 2 days of hiking.

How Not to Hike the Heaphy Track

An unsettling feeling hit me shortly after lunch. As I hiked, the feeling got worse, a familiar and unwanted sensation brewing in my stomach, building as I made my way up the mountain. Finally it overwhelmed me and I grabbed a nearby rock to steady myself as I vomited. Immediately I felt better and I was relieved, returning to the hike. But it wasn’t long before it was back and over the next few hours as I slogged my way up in altitude, I had to stop again and again to purge my stomach, a hint of misery building as time went on and my destination failed to come into view. Having been dropped off by shuttle some hours before, I was 3 nights away from my car, and as my misery worsened, I contemplated my options: crawl back to the middle of nowhere and hope for a phone signal to call for a pick-up, or continue to traverse the mountains to reach my car. I’ve been called stubborn on more than one occasion, but never foolhardy. I’m not sure which one of these I was being (perhaps both), but I decided to push on, feeling the dizziness of dehydration creep in as I continued to be sick on the trail.

I’d spent Christmas day in 2019 packing and prepping for the hike ahead and early on Boxing Day I’d set off on the long drive from Christchurch to Kohaihai on the edge of Kahurangi National Park on the west coast of the South Island. Here marks the end of the Heaphy Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. I spent the majority of the drive in my own World, admiring the gorgeous scenery that the country is famous for. I paused briefly in the Buller Gorge to take some photographs before hitting the west coast and turning northwards. On a whim I picked up a hitchhiker who was heading to Karamea, something which I had never done prior to living in New Zealand but have done a few times since living here. She recommended the campsite she’d just stayed at and it turned out she’d just come off the track that I was about to start. Once I dropped her off and continued onward to the end of the road, it wasn’t long till I was stepping out in gorgeous sunshine to the sound of crashing waves on the beach.

 

I had 40 mins to spare until my shuttle was scheduled and after a walk on the beach, I watched the weka wandering about the site, admired the pohutakawa trees which were in full bloom and readied my hiking gear together to join the large group of people that waited at the shelter. My shuttle arrived a little early and before long we were all bundled on for the long and tedious drive to Nelson. As the crow flies, the start and end of the 4-day Great Walk are only on opposite sides of the national park, but the road network meant the logistics of track transport were going to take over 24hrs from leaving home to reach the start of the trail. It had already taken 6hrs to drive there, and now I had a 6hr bus drive back through the Buller Gorge and north to Nelson. But the shuttle was also responsible for picking up hikers and bikers on several tracks and so we wound our way from main road to back roads as we offloaded and loaded people in various parts of the region. Finally, well into the evening, we pulled up in Nelson.

 

Aside from my hiking gear I’d brought the remains of a bottle of wine I’d started on Christmas day, and obtaining a pizza, I sat out on my hostel balcony and chilled out in the summer evening air. I’d wanted to walk the Heaphy track for some time and was excited about the hike to come. I rose early and readied my gear, unwittingly sealing my fate for the hike ahead, and headed back to the bus stop to jump aboard the shuttle once more. This time we circled through Abel Tasman to pick up and drop off those doing the trails in that National Park, before finally those of us walking the Heaphy were dumped at a car park in what felt like the middle of nowhere. Roughly 28hrs after I’d left home, I was on the trail.

The start of the trail is an easy walk through lowland forest and grassland past a hut near the bank of the Aorere river. With everyone starting at almost the exact same time there was a bit of queue to sign in on the Department of Conservation (DoC) track book, but thankfully everybody spread out quite early on. Whilst I don’t mind socialising at the huts in the evening, I much prefer hiking solo. Not only does it let me get into my own head space, an act which helps me unwind from the stress of daily life, but I find I see more on my own, be it wildlife on the trail, or some random piece of beauty like the dew on a flower, or the dappled light of sun breaking through the foliage. Within half an hour of leaving the start point, the long climb up the mountain began.

 

Being summer it was a hot day, and I started throwing the water back as the trail wound its way up and up the mountainside. At a starting altitude of 140m, my destination for the night, Perry Saddle Hut was sitting at 860m, and the DoC sign stated 5hrs to get there. On these great walks, the distance signs tend to be an over-estimate, so I kept a steady pace, in no particular hurry, knowing I’d make the hut in good time. Every now and again a break in the foliage would afford a view across the valley to the nearby mountain range, but mostly I was among thick forest, passing through dappled sunlight as it peaked through.

 

But after stopping for lunch washed down with a big guzzle of water, I started walking again only to realise I just wasn’t feeling quite right. I worked out pretty quickly what the problem was and realised this was not a small issue. The day before when I had been packing, I’d gotten out my water bladder to discover I’d somehow left some water in it from a previous use and the water was bright green. I’d washed it first with soapy water then when my UV water treatment light failed to work properly, I sterilised it with boiling water, but clearly this wasn’t enough to get rid of whatever bacteria had brewed in the watery remnants. Having filled the bladder full in Nelson that morning, I’d given myself water poisoning and I was an idiot. It was a hot sunny day and I had a 4-day hike to do. I needed water to drink and I needed a receptacle to put it into. The more I was sick, the more I needed water and yet I couldn’t drink any. My increasing misery was self-induced and I staggered on in whatever stubborn foolishness took over me.

Eventually I reached the Aorere shelter after 5hrs. I should have been at the hut by now, but a vat of rain water allowed me to ditch my water supply and boil some water to replace it with. It wasn’t ideal as clearly boiling hadn’t worked the first time, but with my UV light refusing to hold its charge and with a need to drink some water, this was the best that I could do. The sign stated an hour to the hut, but this final section felt like it went on forever. Knowing though that I might not be back here again, the stubborn streak came out and I still made the most of the sidetrack to a lookout which afforded a view to the mountains to the south. Shortly after, I reached the highest point of the trail, and yet as I looked at the topographical map, I inwardly despaired about the distance in front of me.

 

It was approaching 6pm, over 6hrs since I’d started walking, when I suddenly saw a post stating the hut was 1km away. When at last I reached the hut, it was bustling with life and I headed straight to the bunk room to lie down. People came and went, and as I lay prostrate on the mattress I felt the awful sensation in my stomach return. Leaping off the bed to get outside I started retching before I’d even reached the door. Hand over mouth I was almost in tears as I pushed out into the boot room where I immediately threw up on the floor. I only made it as far as the decking outside before I was violently sick again in front of everyone walking past. My misery was overloaded with embarrassment, but I hovered there for some time as the feeling subsided. When at last it passed, I sheepishly went back inside to wash the floor of the boot room and flush the decking. This wasn’t the hike that I’d planned.

Huts of any kind are a great place to meet like-minded people from all around the country and all around the World. That night I was eternally grateful for the kind soul who provided me with sterilising tablets to treat my water bladder, which thankfully meant I could start drinking water again. Between my dehydration and a horrendous snorer in the same room, I got little sleep that night, but by the time morning arrived, I’d managed to keep my stomach contents inside my stomach for nearly 12hrs. I hadn’t eaten since lunchtime the day before and that hadn’t stayed down, but although I was no longer being sick, I couldn’t bare the thought of breakfast. I still contemplated heading back down the mountain, but not for long. As the hikers gradually packed up and moved on, I too set off across the ridge. Had things been different, I possibly would have taken the summit route up to Mt Perry, but as it was I had a long day ahead. On an empty stomach, dehydrated and tired, I started day 2 of the Heaphy Track.

The New Christchurch

In September 2010 and February 2011 a couple of large earthquakes ripped through the city of Christchurch resulting in mass devastation and loss of life. I moved to the city just shy of the 1 year anniversary of the February earthquake, and was shocked to find a city locked down, shut off and covered in dust. Those first few months I thought I’d made such a huge mistake living there. But fast forward all these years later and I love the place. The regeneration has been incredible to watch, and whilst I don’t like everything that has been done with the place, the vast majority of the changes have returned this devastated city to a place of vibrancy and life. Whilst I’d been in Japan during October 2019, a much anticipated new spot in the city had opened up and on my return I was eager to get out and experience it for myself.

At one end of Cashel Mall, replacing the colourful and popular Container Mall is Riverside Market. It opened in sections, some of the external eateries opening sooner and on that first visit, the place was still filling up, but on walking into the large space filled with food stalls, I was quickly in love and eager to try out the new bites. From baked goods, to cheeses, to meats, it wasn’t quite what I’d expected but that didn’t matter. I sussed out some places to try as I wandered around, moving upstairs to take in the view from the rafters. Outside a plethora of eateries were ready to serve. The following weekend I was back, determined to try a few other places. Over a year later, it is still a firm favourite to eat out in the city.

Divali celebrations came and went in Cathedral Square. Aside from the sad spectacle of the abandoned Cathedral, the square itself is open as an entertainment space, so there was a decent crowd as the musicians and dancers performed on the stage, culminating in bhangra music which is my favourite style of Indian dance. Along the road, a giant bright red container had been set up as a form of statement art. Impressively, it had been cut out into giant letters stating ‘MADE IN CHINA’ and it was possible to climb through the letters which I duly did as a big kid that I am.

I’d already experienced the delights of spring in the gardens the month previous, but a return to the gardens in October still provided lots of colour and fresh blooms to ogle at. The cherry blossoms were past their peak but inside the Botanic Gardens there was a mass of pinks and yellows and reds and oranges. Semi-secluded at the back of the gardens is a series of small ponds, and aside from the usual ducks that are in attendance here, I was surprised to happen upon a little shag. It was merrily swimming around the shallow water and when it turned head on to face me, the natural curve of the beak made it look comically grumpy.

 

To my delight there were also ducklings everywhere. I especially love Paradise Shelduck ducklings as they are particularly cute and fluffy, but even the hybrid grey ducks that are the usual fare around there were fun to watch. The biggest of the lakes in the gardens, with its stone arch bridge across it, is my favourite part to visit and hang out as there’s always some form of bird activity going on here. At one point a mother duck led her ducklings along the path and I watched the family go about their stroll.

 

I gradually worked my way round the river Avon that encircles the Botanic Gardens, and was stoked to spot a few eels in the water. I had heard that the eel population was slowly improving after some remedial works had taken place to improve the water quality and here was the evidence that it was working. As I watched the couple of eels weaving around under the water, a punt and a few kayaks lazily passed by. These sunny spring and summer weekend days when people are making the most of the warmth, and the excitement of the change in season is tangible in the air, are my favourite kind of days. As much as I usually prefer my own company, I love to breathe in the shared joy of these kind of days.

 

It was good enough to take a walk around the city and watch the place go through its motions. The red tram trundled towards me as I walked along Worcester Street and on a whim I decided to jump on board. I usually get an annual pass which covers the tram and the gondola outside of the city for unlimited rides, so it was easy to make use of the card when I felt like playing tourist. That, and the tram drivers tend to be a font of knowledge for what is happening in the city, including the gossip among the developers, so it is a good way to find out what’s coming and when. At the margin of the city centre, the large form of the new Convention Centre was starting to take shape as we passed and before long we were turning into the colourful New Regent Street. This part of the city was a regular hangout in the earlier stages of the rebuild when it was one of the earlier parts of the city to reopen, but while it still has some great eateries, I now hardly come here at all.

 

When we finally circled round to Cashel Street, the mall was alive with people. Again, my memories of this street years ago was of desolation and quietness, but now it is the heart of the city once more. From businesses on weekdays spilling their workers out for local eats and coffee, to weekend shoppers and people looking for a bite to eat or drink, this end of the city is a delight with the Riverside Market, the bubbling river Avon and the Terrace eateries and bars located within a short distance of each other. After completing a circuit on the tram, I jumped off to get back on my feet, finding myself at the MADE IN CHINA container before crossing the river to admire the glorious Terraces from the far side of the river, culminating in a bite to eat at the market.

 

A few days later on another glorious spring day, I again made use of my tram and gondola pass to take the gondola up Mount Cavendish for another favourite viewpoint of mine. Looking north, the span of Pegasus Bay sweeps away into the distance and the city itself is nestled just a little away from the Port Hills, sandwiched between the hills and the distant hulk of the Southern Alps, viewed on the horizon. On the other side of the building, the glorious turquoise water of Lyttelton Harbour sits within an old volcanic caldera, dividing the Port Hills from Banks Peninsula, the mountainous remnants of 2 extinct volcanoes. All these glorious days spent wandering around my city remind me how much I love here, and how wrong I was to be put off by first impressions. Even now in 2021, with the rebuild still ongoing, I have nothing but excitement for the new things still to come. The New Christchurch is an exciting place to live, and I can’t wait to see where it’s going.

Canterbury Tales

Having spent months recuperating from a back injury, and following a winter getaway to Samoa, there was still another 2 months of 2019’s winter to get through, and I was in need of a pick-me-up to help me through. As much as I prefer the New Zealand summers to those of my native Scotland, every winter, I pine over the lack of central heating and the absence of snow. I remember great dumps of snow and driving through blizzards where I used to live in Aberdeen, and as a result, one of the surprising things I come to miss from home, is those crisp winter days waking up to fresh snow fall. Year after year in Christchurch I’ve found I have to grit my teeth to get through the months of May to September, and so it was important I find something to occupy my days off work and make up for all the lost weekends earlier in the year. I created 2 random lists: a geographical breakdown of Canterbury, and a list of possible activities. Then, with the aid of a random number and letter selector, every weekend, I simply had the Internet pick a letter and number for me, and the rest was up to my imagination to combine the activity and the location.

First up was a scenic drive round to Diamond Harbour. The winter sunshine sparkled on the still water within the harbour and the surrounding slopes reflected through the gentle ripples. It’s a drive that always delights, and there’s so many scenic options to get you there. After stopping at a boat ramp to get some photographs, I headed back via Allandale Reserve where the receding tide exposed a mudflat, much to the delight of a myriad of wading birds that picked away for food. In the time that I spent there, the sun dipped behind the Port Hills and I could see as I headed home that a lot of cloud had moved in over the city. This created perfect conditions for a glorious sunset, and as the sun lowered in the winter evening, the sky turned an incredible orange. In a pre-COVID lifetime when planes still flew regularly, I watched as an Air New Zealand plane approached the airport from above my back garden, framed against a sky full of fire.

 

A couple of weekends later, I headed inland to Castle Hill Scenic Reserve, a little beyond Porters Pass on the West Coast road. It’s always a popular place to be, and now at the end of July, there was snow on the nearby peaks. It had been a while since I’d last stopped here, but there’s so many options for routes to take through the giant boulder field, and with a few patches of standing water around, there was some great opportunities to catch the snowy reflections. We skirted round the foot of them and round the side, past a boulder which has a graffiti inscription from 1869 on it. There were snowy peaks to be seen on the far side also, and we picked our way through the lower trails before climbing up onto the hillside at the back of the main boulders. A temporary tarn again provided more gorgeous reflections but we didn’t get such a beautiful spot to ourselves for long. With the sun low for the winter months, there were parts of the area in permanent shade and as we crossed one such spot I went flying, landing on my bum, having slipped on a spot of iced-up mud. With the boulders themselves casting a long shadow on the front side, I had to be so careful picking my way back down again so as not to fall flat on my face.